TAPU | How to Draw Birds
Hardcover with Textinlay, 80 pages 4/4; HP-Indigo, Linen Hardcover 2017
1773 – at the age of eighteen, Georg Forster drew his first bird. He and his father, biologist Georg Reinhold Forster, accompanied Captain James Cook on an expedition to the South Pacific. Cook was tasked to take his ships Resolution, Adventure, Discovery, and Endeavour to sea and discover the hypothetical Terra Australis – a great southern continent, that was thought to counterbalance the northern land mass. The idea of the existence of such a continent had been common reasoning in Europe since antiquity. But Cook only found small islands. After returning to Europe, Forster, based upon his notes, wrote a travelogue which quickly became a popular read and coined the European images of the strange South Seas and their inhabitants.
His text also introduced the term tapu to Europe. Tapu – “the commandment to avoid”, as he defined it, is a widespread complex cultural concept in the Pacific Region. It derives from the two words ta and pu. On the island of Tahiti, the words described something “fully indicated”. Originally bearing a positive connotation, the term was reinterpreted as negative in the European usage – as it represents the mythical interdiction to touch someone, which was fought in the name of Enlightenment at the time. But, as Adorno and Horkheimer note in their “Dialectic of Enlightenment”, “the immanence of positivism, [...] appears to be nothing other than a form of universal taboo. Nothing is allowed to remain outside since the mere idea of an “outside” became the actual source of fear.”
© Jakob Engel 2019